Govt to look under rocks to capture activity of informal businesses in Economic Census – I see roadblocks

Leonard Sengere Avatar

How many times has the Zimbabwean government issued Statutory Instruments that are disconnected from reality? Too many times to count, right? Some of it comes from prioritising political objectives but some of it comes from not having a clue what’s actually on the ground.

The informal market refers to economic activities that occur outside formal government regulations and official monitoring. The parallel market is a subset of the informal market, referring to an unofficial or secondary market where goods or services are traded outside the formal channels established by the government or regulatory authorities.

There is a reason why the parallel market is also called the black or grey market, it’s a black box that no one can claim to fully know. All we know about the black market is that market forces reign supreme down there.

While no one, not even the mighty government, can fully understand it, it’s still worthwhile to invest in understanding it. That way, the government can support it through informed policies and laws.

That’s because for as much as it’s not sexy, not really in keeping with the dream of becoming a middle-income economy, the black market is here to stay. So, the government better try to understand it.

Economic Census

The Economic Census is a comprehensive survey of business establishments in Zimbabwe. It is to be conducted every five years by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT). The objectives of the Economic Census are to:

  • Provide comprehensive baseline statistics on the size and structure of the economy.
  • Provide valuable insights into the geographical spread of economic activities and business establishments in the country.
  • Generate key information for compiling of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • Provide requisite information for the development of a comprehensive Statistical Business Register.

We have never had one and the government intends to carry out the first one starting in 2025.

The 2025 Economic Census will be conducted in all ten provinces of the country, and will collect information from business establishments operating in Zimbabwe except those engaged in the following activities:

  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing activities.
  • Public administration and defence; compulsory social security activities.
  • Activities of households as employers.
  • Activities of extraterritorial organizations and bodies.

As you know, successful censuses come from adequate preparation and public buy-in.

The roadmap for the 2025 Economic Census is as follows:

  • Mapping of business enumeration areas scheduled for April 2024–July 2024. This exercise involves identifying locations from which businesses are being operated.
  • Listing of all business enterprises, from which details will be collected on such particulars as names and addresses of the business operation, contact details, main economic activities engaged in, among other key information. This exercise will take place in the period August 2024 to November 2024.
  • Data collection for small business commencing in January 2025 and running for the whole year until December 2025.
  • Data collection for medium and large business enterprises earmarked for April 2026 to September 2026.
  • Preliminary results are expected by the end of the first quarter of 2027 and final results by the end of the second quarter of 2027.

A good idea but…

On paper, this all sounds good. What I’m not sure they will get is the buy-in they need for the census to be a success. Informal businesses do not want the government to know that they exist, let alone dig into their operations and figure out that some of them are multimillion-dollar businesses.

This could come with attention as the government is not going to ignore data that says a certain location houses a number of businesses pushing big boy numbers.

That could lead to tax obligations that the informal sector is not too keen to pay, for various reasons. The govt doesn’t usually spend that money as wisely as people would like and we can’t really question them on that.

The question is, if the informal sector tries to avoid the enumerators or lie to them, what can ZIMSTAT do to ensure they still get some meaningful information? I don’t know, but I know they are thinking about this.

Before you judge the informal sector too much, remember it pays its taxes through the IMTT. Yes, I know, formal businesses pay it too but they are being double taxed and the solution to that is not to double tax the informal sector too.


One of the problems we have had with Housing Censuses is that the reports are not released on time. By the time they come out, years would have passed and the situation on the ground would have changed.

On the roadmap above, the government plans to release the report quite early but will we see that happen?

We would hate for the whole exercise to be a waste of time because it will cost us, the taxpayers, millions.

I mean, I was sort of mad that the Economic Census had to be launched at a hotel and some poor kids had to be dragged to the thing. Was it necessary? I don’t think so.

I know they need buy-in and so needed to announce it in an unmistakable way but could that not have been done from ZIMSTAT offices or some other government complex? So, I’m already not too impressed with the money being spent on the census and we haven’t even started. For my sanity I better let it go.

Also read:

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  1. Yeukai Marange

    I am truly impressed by the depth of knowledge and meticulous research evident in this article on the upcoming economic census. The comprehensive insights you provided shed light on the potential implications for the country’s economic landscape. Thanks for this informed crucial information.

    1. Anonymous

      Are you really yeukai marange.. its mie James.. uri sei hako

  2. ludicrous as per ususal

    oh Leonard your cynical approach always brings a chuckle
    as you alluded to the budget is infact ceremonial and this as with the rest of their disingenuous plans will come to nought.
    they really have a plan and most of their deeds have no good intentions

  3. Mukelebayi Wellington


  4. The Empress

    From the word GO they are already looting. Obviously this announcement could have been done at ZIMSTAT offices at a press conference but….then there would be no chance to collect the various allowances (travelling, entertainment, I was there allowance etc etc)
    And of course later on it will be necessary to hold several roadshows across the country “to inform the public” meaning more allowances and if they play their cards right there might even be kickbacks oh so many kickbacks. For example… from the venues that will host the roadshows.
    Cars will be bought, houses will be built and many beers will be drunk all from just the allowances from this programe alone.

    Whether the country will get anything worthwhile from this endeavour is doubtful, but one thing I definitely know is that some people are going to make a lot of money!

    1. Prince

      Spot on!
      It’s not about getting any usable infor – which of course can’t be obtained that way.
      The informal sector is such because it deliberately avoids and evades Gvt agents and regulations, it won’t just start cooperating just because its a census.
      And It’s not for a lack of trying that Gvt hasn’t been able to eliminate or curtail the informal operations. It will not just suddenly succeed in accessing it.

  5. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

    This just looks like a mission to spend money, whilst looking like you are doing something. After millions have been spent on the exercise and ZIMRA or councils need that information, it’s highly unlikely they’ll be given. So, what’s the end game. We find out that there are 100 businessea in Greendale suburbs and 3000 at Siya-so then what?

  6. 3man

    This idea must have been launched from the finance ministry launch pad of Mthuli et-al. The whole exercise is about identifying who is doing what & where, and how & when can we tax them. These guys are not just intending to fork out say US$20m just to have knowledge of who or how many mapostori are making madhishi erata or migomo in harare or bulawayo. I know mr mthuli will definitely come up with statutory instruments chakadaro 2023 to mine and extract US$ from the backbone of the economy i.e. informal sector. I bet they will not get the info they are looking for from the guys running backyard industries. All this exercise is for political millage for 2028 urban vote because they have mastered the art of intimidation when it comes to the rural electorate. I would habe had no problem had they decided to squander US$20m on a 6-month conference of engineers to address power deficits and erratic stinking urban water supply.

  7. fzpf

    f c u k z a n u p f

  8. Zwide

    Why drag the poor kids dressed in traditional ndebele attire?!…🤣🤣🤣🤣..this govt so

  9. Elijah Mutemeri

    The idea is good. But I strongly believe that if Zim start work with all organisations that deals with the informal economy. They have organized activities in this area. Also include Trade Union Federations in this survey.

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